Anti-Mormons often tout a letter written by the secretary to the First Presidency from some years ago which states that certain Book of Mormon lands were in the upstate New York area.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Office of the First Presidency Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
October 16, 1990
Bishop Darrel L. Brooks Moore Ward Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake 1000 Windemere Moore, OK 73160
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.
Sincerely yours, (signed) F. Michael Watson Secretary to the First Presidency
However, upon further inquiry by faithful LDS members concerned about Watson’s reply, Watson wrote the following letter:
The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.
William Hamblin obtained the original copy of this letter, and quotes it in an article he authored for the FARMS Review. Unfortunately, the original copy of this second letter has been lost. Some anti-Mormons believe that Hamblin and the other witnesses to the letter are lying about the existence of the letter. Dr. Daniel Peterson recently responded this way:
…Professor Hamblin and the FARMS Review source checker and the FARMS publications director and the FARMS Review production editor and I all saw it during the preparation of the article for publication. Two or three very vocal critics of FARMS, however, pretend to suspect that we made the letter up, attributing views to the First Presidency that they do not, in fact, hold, and that we brazenly published our forgery for all to see.
If they don’t believe that the letter ever existed, they should blow the whistle on the conspiracy down at BYU. What a triumph that would be for them! We would presumably all lose our jobs and maybe even our membership in the Church, and be forever discredited.
I myself don’t doubt that there was such a letter. I held it in my own two little hands, and read it with my own two little eyes. Those for whom this is an issue, however, are entirely free to investigate.
More can be learned about this here.